There is no other issue in the UMC that has as many people fighting as the one on human sexuality. There are more proposals to GC2016 regarding human sexuality than all the other proposals combined! This issue consumes more online space, more meeting space, more annual conference space, and more general conference space. For the past several years the people of the United Methodist Church has been involved in a time of conversion. People on both sides of this issue have sought to convert one another to their side. After all the proposals that have been brought up, read, reflected on, blogged on, debated, and voted on, there are really only three possibilities.
- Conflict – Do Nothing. This is the option is the default. It is the status quo we have been living with for the past General Conference. It is neither side of our wings being able to accomplish anything they set out to accomplish. As in past General Conferences, this option usually happens when dialogue runs out and both groups vote they way they were going to vote from the beginning. I am sure there will be hand-wringing and protests. It means neither side really gets what it wants. We continue to exist in some sort of tension where our wings will still do whatever they want to do. Some churches, annual conferences, and jurisdictions will continue to operate without the Book of Discipline. More churches will probably stop paying apportionments.
- Compromise – Split (Internal or External). Let’s get one thing clear. All of the compromise plans that have been proposed are splits. Some of them are internal splits and others are external splits. They all involve some sort of mechanism that keeps a division of churches, annual conferences or jurisdictions separate based on their stances on human sexuality. Seriously. Reread all of them. They all have A church and B church. Some put the A church/B church at the local level. Some put the A church/B church at the jurisdictional level. Most of these plans require changes to the BoD. Some require constitutional level changes to the BoD. (Examples of Split Plans include – A Way Forward, Jurisdictional Solution, Global Connectional Plan) Getting a church of 200 people to agree on one thing is difficult, getting a conference of 850 to agree (and maybe 2/3s of Annual Conferences) seems like a daunting task.
- Consensus – Agreement (Right or Left). Finally, we have consensus. Consensus is everyone entering into some sort of agreement on the issue of human sexuality. I have seen two plans that are consensus plans. One for the right and one for the left. The Covenantal Unity Plan and the Connectional Table plan. The Covenantal Unity Plan asks for us all to formulate agreement around the Book of Discipline and makes a way for those who disagree to leave the denomination. The Connectional Table plan changes our Book of Discipline to allow all pastors to officiate same-sex unions and allows the Bishop to ordain GLBTQ people and appoint them to wherever they want. Some might see this second plan as a compromise plan, but if you read it closely you see that it is a consensus plan. Whether you might disagree or not you would be in full agreement by default. The consensus-based plans are probably going to be the most difficult to pass. Getting this much agreement might take the Holy Spirit descending on General Conference.
A fourth C might be Collaboration. While I am unsure what Collaboration might look like, I think it might begin by transforming the denomination into a network. Huge overhauls to our polity, shakeups in our structures, etc… Collaboration may start out looking like schism but end up looking more like the future of the UMC. Our local churches might become a lot more networked instead of connectional. They might hand pick pastors on the basis of what they need and what their mission is. Specialization might become more important. We might have to make better use of strategic partnerships across denominational lines. Several church plant models already use this type of model with great success. This requires more changes than any of the other C’s and thus unlikely to come up at General Conference 2016.